I don't really follow the more yeshivish news so much, but I saw this link from Yeshiva World News posted at Bad 4 Shidduchim and found it very interesting. In short, Gedolei Hador have decided to sanction a frum video-dating service - that will help alleviate the disappointment and waste of money that could arise from participating in a long distance shidduch. With the new system, a person visits a ShidduchVision studio and has up to three video-conference sessions with the prospective candidate, after which he/she decides if an actual trip is worthwhile or not.
I think this is kind of cool. It makes a lot of sense to me. The one downside I can see at the moment is that the anticipated first phone call awkwardness is upped to a whole new level. You don't just see a picture of a person (at least theoretically, and more practically, the guy seems to be the only one shown a picture) and nervously dial their number/answer the phone. Instead, you have to dress up as though for a date, and for all intents and purposes, this basically is a first set of dates.
I do wonder if these actually count at all toward their overall date tally. Especially in the yeshivish world where a quota on dates seems to be the thing to do, with certain numbers means reaching certain stages. As much as one can learn from this sort of encounter, I would hope that the significance is minimized, perhaps counting all three (if indeed all three meetings are utilized) as just a first date. First dates are always (or at least should be) viewed merely as means to know if it is worthwhile to see the person again. Most of the time, I would presume a second date is worthwhile, unless the other person is so hideously vile, or clearly unstable/violent/rude or something of that nature.
I'm sure a lot can be gained from the video conferencing, but I have found having an extended first phone conversation (and add to that knowing how the person looks) can be beneficial too. Upon further thought, I'm not sure that the video meeting is any better than the picture plus phone call. But that may be just me, or at least the more modern circles wherein the first phone call isn't always just a quick 10-minute "How do you do, my dear? When are you next available for an outing? Starbucks next Thursday at five sound splendid. Until then, tah tah!" So perhaps I should rephrase the beginning of this paragraph and say that this new innovation can be very helpful for this specific dating market (Lakewood, etc).
I've heard recommendations from credible sources (such as Rav Goldvicht, at his dating 101 shiur) that first phone calls aren't meant to be so lengthy, and certainly shouldn't be a "first date" sort of conversation. Invariably, I have found out that, more often then not, the phone call becomes something more than a quick calender check session. When I first started dating, I had no clue what I was doing. This newbie nervousness amped up the awkwardness of that initial call, and thus the duration was typically short.
More recently, I've had first phone calls that have neared the three-hour mark. I definitely do not think that those were by any means standard (especially since neither shidduch really went anywhere in the end). One recent first call that I had was a little over an hour long, didn't drag out, was very casual and nice, and we still fit in the date scheduling at the end. That, I think, is a good/better way to handle things. This type of conversation certainly cuts down on the rigidity of the first actual meeting to a degree, and now the person you're going out with isn't a totally foreign entity.
I also think that a semi-decent first phone call can be an indicator of sorts for how the first date will go as well. True, there is no guarantees in such things, but just as point of empirical evidence: the shortest first phone call I had in in recent memory lasted under 20 minutes, and she dropped me after the first date - which has NEVER happened before. True, I must be dan lekaf zechus and presume she saw something was terribly off (which then makes me feel bad because it I then mentally put MYSELF into that hideously vile/bad person category I mentioned earlier). As a point of etiquette, I think most everyone deserves a second date - Rav Goldvicht even mentioned a third date as part of this initial procedure. So I can't help but wonder why she and I were so far off that she wouldn't consider a second date. Instead of thinking about how terrible I might be, I'm going to presume that the first phone call/her own research wasn't enough to really know if the idea was really shayach or not, and that she only found that out upon meeting me. Also, as I mentioned in the post about rejection, at least she was the one who nixed me, and not the other way around.
With regard to inyanei d'yoma (even if it is after midnight), I would like to publicly say that I am thankful for all the experiences that I've had so far, both good and bad, as well as all the wonderful people who have helped me as shadchanim, mentors, and sources of advice. I really do appreciate every ounce of effort they make to assist me in my quest for a spouse; especially those who have endeavored to keep me in mind and set me up more than once. I hope all their hard work pays off soon...